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Tampa given high marks on water, wastewater systems by rating agency

Analysts liked the city's pay as you go strategy for upgrading its sewage and water utilities.

TAMPA — The world may be an uncertain place in the time of coronavirus and civil unrest, but the financial state of Tampa’s water and wastewater systems are strong, according to three bond rating agencies.

City officials touted the AAA ratings given by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch on Wednesday, noting in a news release that it’s the first such top-tier ranking since the Great Recession.

“These ratings should not be taken lightly,” said Mayor Jane Castor in a statement. “These stable outlooks are due to a decade of hard work, ingenuity, and a commitment to strong fiscal stewardship by our entire city of Tampa team. As we move forward, we will continue to remain steadfast and laser focused on providing world class service to all of our residents.”

The rating agencies liked the city’s strategy for paying for a 20-year, $2.9 billion upgrade to the city’s water and sewage infrastructure, which is being paid for with higher user rates and comparatively limited debt. The decision to add a base charge for the first time also cheered the analysts.

“It is these practices and the utility’s strong liquidity position that will keep the rating stable over the next two years. Therefore, the outlook is stable,” read the S&P analysis excerpted in the release.

Higher bond agency ratings generally make it easier for the city to borrow money — potentially a boon for the city as it navigates a pandemic-ravaged economy.

The only other city in Florida to receive AAA ratings for their utilities is Palm Beach, said Ashley Bauman, Castor’s spokeswoman.